Asperger syndrome has been recognized as a mild autism spectrum disorder since the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual was published in 2013.
Asperger’s is often considered a ‘high-functioning’ form of autism because children with the disorder are able to develop cognitive abilities that match or exceed those of healthy children.
However, their social skills may be impaired, affecting their ability to interact with others. Here are 15 facts every parent should know about Asperger’s.
What Is Asperger Syndrome?
Asperger syndrome is a neurological disorder that is considered to be a mild form of autism. Its symptoms are less severe than those of autism. Many people with Asperger’s are often considered to have above-average cognitive skills but struggle to maintain their attention.
Unlike children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, who lack an ability to focus, children with Asperger’s focus obsessively on specific and often unusual topics. This is why many people with the disorder are able to become experts on niche topics.
Children and adults with Asperger’s have been described as socially awkward and lacking social maturity. However, most of them can perform day-to-day tasks and are able to function capably without intervention.
Signs to Watch For
It is not easy to identify a person with Asperger’s because the disorder is a high-functioning form of autism. Children with Asperger’s typically do not experience speech and language delays due to their above-average cognitive skills.
The most common symptom is impaired social development. Children with Asperger’s are often isolated from other children because their interests are different and they focus on specific topics obsessively. They also do not pick up on the social cues of others around them.
Common signs of Asperger’s include a lack of eye contact during conversation; difficulty comprehending nonliteral words or phrases; repetitive mannerisms, speech, or movements; and delays in motor skill development.
More Than Intelligence
Because people with Asperger’s often perform as well as or better than their peers in speech and cognitive development, they can seem just like healthy children and adults in some contexts.
They have a strong desire to know everything about a topic of interest, and their commitment to studying it makes them great students in this particular area.
However, many students with Asperger’s struggle when it comes to middle and high school. This is usually the time when the ability to interpret social and emotional cues and nonliteral phrases becomes important for learning. Thus, people with Asperger’s may struggle with comprehension and creative writing.
Many children with Asperger’s get misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder because there are some similarities in the symptoms, such as social awkwardness and difficulties with social interaction.
Other signs to look for in a person with Asperger’s include poor eye contact, difficulty with motor skills, obsessive tendencies, anger management issues, and anxiety.
The most effective way to diagnose Asperger’s is to observe a child in a social setting where he or she can be seen interacting with others. It is in these interactions that people will Asperger’s will appear to be socially and emotionally different.
The Asperger Syndrome Coalition of the United States reports that most children are diagnosed with Asperger’s between the ages of five and nine.
What Causes Asperger’s?
There are many theories about what causes Asperger’s, but research remains inconclusive. Some people used to believe that Asperger’s was the result of cold or emotionally unavailable parenting. However, scientists have not found any evidence to support this claim.
Others suspect that autism disorders, including Asperger’s, are partly heritable. This is consistent with the fact that Asperger’s runs in families. There is also the belief that autistic disorders are related to exposure to toxins during pregnancy or prenatal infections.
These environmental influences mixed with an underlying genetic defect may act together to increase the chances that a child will develop Asperger’s.
However, more research is needed to determine the accuracy of these theories.
People with Asperger’s are often sensitive to by sensory objects and may become hypervigilant to certain sounds and sights. For example, a buzzing noise that goes unnoticed by other people may be bothersome to a child with Asperger’s.
Lights that are bright, blinking, or flashing are common instigators and people with Asperger’s can be bothered by items that are not in a certain order or pattern.
Another obstacle for people with Asperger’s is clothing. They may find the sensation of fabric against their skin to be so irritating and distracting they cannot focus on anything else.
Many people with Asperger’s are often labelled as being emotionally immature or socially different, and children with Asperger’s may lack empathy due to delays in social and emotional development.
They also struggle to understand nonliteral phrases and nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions. In addition, many people with Asperger’s struggle with anxiety and anger management, especially in social situations.
Children with Asperger’s often express distress through emotions that do not match the situation, and something that is a mild annoyance to most children can be deeply frustrating and upsetting to them. As difficult as it may be for parents, it is important to stay calm and show understanding during these situations.
Just like children with autism, children with Asperger’s often prefer to play by themselves. This may be because of their strong focus on topics other children may not have an interest in.
Children with Asperger’s also tend to be more self-focused. If they are having a conversation, for example, they tend to focus heavily on themselves and their interests instead of engaging in a reciprocal, two-sided conversation.
In addition, because they have difficulty reading and deciphering nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions and body language, they often miss social cues.
In school settings, children with Asperger’s may struggle to understand a teacher’s hand motions for ‘come here’ or ‘stop,’ which can make them seem disobedient.
Balance and Routine
People with Asperger syndrome benefit from routine and limited spontaneity in their schedules. The structure and order allow them to know what to expect and how to behave. Change can be challenging for them and disrupt their daily lives.
To help children with Asperger’s thrive, it is important to have balance in the family unit. Although children with Asperger’s are different, they should not be treated all that differently from other children. They should be praised and punished just like their siblings and given the same structure and routine.
There are various therapies that can help people with Asperger’s. In modelling, a teacher shows a child how to express himself or herself appropriately by emulating the behaviour and encouraging the child to follow along.
Speech-language therapy can be used to improve communication skills by teaching children how to have a two-way conversation. Speech therapy can also help children learn how to fluctuate their tone while speaking, which is a skill child with Asperger’s struggle with.
Cognitive behavioural therapy can teach people with Asperger syndrome how to process emotions more effectively and handle angry outbursts. It can also reduce obsessive and repetitive behaviors. These therapies are often combined with applied behaviour analysis, which focuses on providing encouragement and positive reinforcement.
Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications formulated specifically to treat Asperger’s. However, some medications can help with related symptoms, such as depression and anxiety. It is important to consult with a doctor to see if a prescription is appropriate and to get a second or third opinion if there is any uncertainty.
It is common for people with Asperger syndrome to try a few different types and doses of medication before finding one that alleviates their symptoms. Some of the drugs doctors prescribe are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, antipsychotic drugs, and stimulants.
Symptoms of depression are treated with reuptake inhibitors whereas anxiety is treated with antipsychotic drugs. Stimulant medications are often prescribed for attention disorders.
Special Diets and Alternative Treatments
A change in diet is a common strategy for managing symptoms of Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders. Some foods that are most likely to cause symptoms in people with autism spectrum disorders are gluten and casein, which are found in wheat, rye, barley, and dairy products.
However, there is no medical research to support whether or not restricting the intake of these foods is effective as a form of therapy.
In addition to dietary changes, people with Asperger syndrome may benefit from social therapy with dogs. Dogs can help people with Asperger’s become more comfortable in social environments.
Parenting is not easy for anyone, but it can be especially difficult for those who have a child with an autism spectrum disorder. There are numerous in-person and online support groups available for parents and family members of children with Asperger’s.
It is important for family members to connect with others who may be going through similar challenges.
Support groups provide a setting in which family members can learn about best practices for improving social, emotional, and communication skills. Some parents may also benefit from one-on-one or group therapy so they can receive support from a professional.
Asperger’s And Puberty
Puberty is difficult for most people, but it can be harder for children with Asperger syndrome, who already feel very different from their peers. It may require learning a new set of social cues as teenagers learn to navigate their changing bodies and, sometimes, new identities.
There are also many physical and emotional changes that take place during puberty, which may be particularly challenging for children with Asperger’s. To alleviate the anxiety children with Asperger syndrome may experience during puberty, it can be helpful to explain what puberty is and what they can expect during it.
Helping them prepare for changes while they receive formal therapy to learn new social cues can allow children with Asperger’s to cope with the challenges of puberty.
Life with Asperger Syndrome
There is no cure for Asperger syndrome, so children who are diagnosed with it will continue to have the disorder when they are adults. However, this does not mean they cannot live happy, fulfilling, and successful lives.
With the right education and support system, Asperger’s can be well managed. Having a strong support system starts at home. It is important for parents to understand Asperger syndrome and how it affects their child. This includes being aware of triggers, helpful therapies, and the best way to manage the child’s education.
Some parents may find that they need to educate their child’s school and teacher about Asperger’s.
For some teachers, it may be their first time having a child with Asperger’s in their classroom. As a result, it is important for them to know about a child’s diagnosis and how to work with him or her. Other people who are often included in a strong support system include psychologists, physicians, and occupational therapists.